Song of Solomon Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Song of Solomon : Characters

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Total Votes: 7
  1. Guitar Bains

    Guitar Bains is Milkman's best and only friend. His father had died in an accident in a sawmill in the South where he worked supporting his family. The white mill owner gave the widow $40 and the children some candy. Since then, Guitar is unable to eat sweets. His mother has a breakdown and leaves her family, so Guitar is raised by his grandmother, Mrs. Bains, one of Macon Dead II's tenants to whom he is cruel, refusing to extend the time for her to pay rent. Guitar never forgets or forgives this cruelty of the Dead family and holds it against Milkman. Five years older than Milkman, he shows Milkman the black community and takes him to meet his Aunt Pilate. During the civil rights movement, the friends become divided over political issues. He accuses Milkman of being self-absorbed. Guitar becomes a radical terrorist for the Seven Days group who takes revenge for crimes against blacks. He is the Sunday man and therefore given the responsibility for avenging the death of the four girls in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963. Desperate for money to accomplish this, he joins in Milkman's search for the mythical family gold and tries to kill Milkman for holding out on him. It is not clear whether he or Milkman dies in their final struggle.

  2. Mrs. Bains

    Mrs. Bains is Guitar's grandmother who raised him and his siblings though she did not have enough money to feed them. Macon Dead II will not help her when she cannot pay the rent, and this leaves a big impression on Guitar.

  3. The Butler family

    The Butler family lives in the mansion next to the farm, Lincoln's Heaven, in Pennsylvania where Macon Dead I lived with his family after the Civil War. They are the ones who killed Macon and took his land. The last one of them, Elizabeth, killed herself because the family money was gone.

  4. Heddy Byrd

    Heddy Byrd is the Indian woman in Virginia who took in the orphaned Jake (Macon Dead I) when his father Solomon flew back to Africa. Her daughter, Sing, married Jake and moved to Pennsylvania to become the mother of Macon II and Pilate.

    Sing Byrd (see Sing Byrd Dead)

  5. Susan Byrd

    Susan Byrd is the descendent of Heddy Byrd who tells Milkman missing pieces of the family history about Solomon, the flying African.

  6. Circe

    Circe is the old midwife who delivered Macon Jr. and his sister Pilate. She takes the orphaned children in after their father's death and hides them in the Butler mansion where she works as a maid. She helps Pilate make an earring out of her mother's snuffbox. She is still mysteriously in the abandoned mansion when Milkman visits a generation later. She outlived the Butlers and presides over the ruins of the house caring for their Weimaraner dogs that she breeds for a living. She tells Milkman information about his family history, for instance, that his grandmother's name was Sing, and his grandfather's real name was Jake.

  7. Reverend Cooper

    Reverend Cooper is the one who houses Milkman when he comes to Danville, Pennsylvania, to learn about his family. Reverend Cooper knew his grandfather and the story of his murder. He shows Milkman that his father's success and money make him a hero in their eyes for rebuilding the family fortune after the Butler's unpunished crime.

  8. First Corinthians Dead (Corinthians or Corrie)

    First Corinthians Dead is the younger daughter of Ruth and Macon Dead. Corinthians attends Bryn Mawr College and a spends a junior year in France, being groomed to be the wife of some upper-class black man. She never receives a proposal. She becomes depressed, staying at home like her sister Lena, and at the age of 42, leaves to get a job. She tells people she is a secretary to Michael-Mary Graham, the state's poet laureate, when in fact, she is her maid. She pretends to be stupid, and does not tell her employer about her education. She meets Henry Porter, one of her father's tenants on the bus and begins a relationship with him, though he is beneath her. Her brother Milkman intervenes to get their father to forbid the relationship because he knows Porter is one of the Seven Days killers. This intervention costs him the love of both his sisters. Eventually, she leaves the family and moves in with Porter.

  9. Hagar Dead

    Hagar Dead is Reba Dead's daughter and Pilate Dead's granddaughter. She is attracted to her cousin, Milkman, five years younger than she is, and initiates a sexual relationship that goes on for years. When he tires of it, he writes a letter rejecting her, and this unhinges her. She tries to kill him once a month in various ways, but he reveals his contempt by not taking her attacks seriously, and telling her to turn the knife on herself. Hagar goes into deep depression, losing her sense of self-worth, feeling Milkman rejected her for her looks. She takes all of Reba's and Pilate's money to go on a shopping spree to buy things to make her feel attractive, but it does not work. She goes to bed and fades away until she dies of a broken heart. Pilate sings to her at her funeral that she was loved on earth and asks for mercy for her. She makes Milkman carry a box of Hagar's hair for penance, since she was convinced he hated her hair.

  10. Jake (Macon Dead I)

    Jake, who was misnamed Macon Dead by a drunk Yankee soldier during Reconstruction when he had to register with the Freeman's Bureau, is the father of Macon and Pilate, the husband of Sing. He fled to Pennsylvania with Sing after the Civil War where they made a productive farm (Lincoln's Heaven) and raised their two children. He is a strong man who gives both children a sense of determination, yet he is killed by the Butlers for his land, and his death goes unpunished. His children bury the body but when it is flooded out of its shallow grave, the Butlers put the bones in the cave where the children first escaped. Pilate is led back to the cave by her father's ghost who follows her and speaks to her. She believes they are the bones of a white man her brother killed when they escaped and carries them in a bag as a penance. Later she finds they are her father's bones and buries them in his hometown of Shalimar, Virginia. Jake was the youngest child of the ancestor Solomon, the flying African, who took his son up in the air for a short way but was forced to drop him.

  11. Macon Dead II

    Macon Dead II is the son of Macon Dead I and Sing Dead, born on the farm, Lincoln's Heaven. He sees his father killed by the Butlers when he is seventeen and escapes with his sister. They are hidden by Circe in the Butler house for a while and then set out on their own, led to a cave by the ghost of their father. Macon kills a white man sleeping there, perhaps a prospector, and wants to take his bag of gold, but Pilate won't let him. They split up, and through their lifelong estrangement, he always believes she has the gold. Macon settles in the northern city in Michigan where he goes into real estate and marries the daughter of Dr. Foster, trying to rise in the world. He does not get along with his father-in-law who thinks him too dark and will not lend him money. Macon is unable to love his wife Ruth and their children, wanting only the security of possessions. He becomes a slum landlord and is cruel to lower-class black families. He tries to pass on the family business to Milkman, though there is great tension between them. He sends Milkman on the mission to rob Pilate of the gold he thinks she keeps, and this sets Milkman on a quest for the family history.

  12. Macon Dead III (Milkman)

    Macon Dead III is the last child of Ruth and Macon Dead, who would not have been conceived or born except for the intervention of his Aunt Pilate. Macon II stopped sleeping with his wife after the daughters were born. Pilate gives Ruth an aphrodisiac for Macon, and the boy is conceived. Pilate also has to protect the fetus because Macon wants it aborted. Ruth Macon, starved for love, breastfeeds the boy too long, giving him his nickname, Milkman. Milkman has an unhappy childhood with his parents hating one another and his sisters irritated with him. He only finds love and happiness when he discovers his Aunt Pilate's house and his cousin Hagar, with whom he has sex. They give him values unlike those of his family. His father tries to win him back by showing him the business and promising it will be his. Milkman learns bits of family history from his mother, father, and Pilate but none of it connects into a whole story.

    Though living a life of privilege, Milkman has a complex about one of his legs being shorter than the other. He tries to pump himself up, and his friend Guitar is instrumental in helping him develop self-confidence. Milkman is lost in early manhood and starts to act like his father. He drinks, does not take responsibility for Hagar's misery when he rejects her, and thinks there is gold at Pilate's house, which he is willing to steal from her at his father's command. When Pilate saves him from jail after the police arrest him and Guitar for stealing the bag of bones, Milkman is not grateful and still searches for the gold. His sister tells him he is a burden on the family, and that sends him on a journey of self-discovery. He visits the old farm, Circe, and the cave, learning there is no gold. Then he goes to the Dead family hometown of Shalimar, Virginia, where the rural folk teach him manners and the secret of his family connection to the legendary flying Africans. He returns a different and caring man, sharing his knowledge with his family. Meanwhile, Guitar starts hunting him down because he believes Milkman is withholding the gold from him. He shoots Pilate by mistake when she and Milkman bury the bones of Macon I. The novel ends as Milkman offers himself to his friend, and they struggle. The imagery suggests that Milkman is one of the flying Africans as he jumps off the cliff to meet Guitar. Milkman appears to have supernatural powers, for no one has been able to kill him so far. Yet his greatest triumph is the acceptance of his common humanity.

  13. Magdalene, called Lena, Dead

    Magdalene, called Lena, is thirteen when Milkman is born, the oldest daughter of Ruth and Macon. She has to care for her little brother and dislikes his thoughtless ways, symbolized by his peeing on her nice Sunday dress on an outing. Lena leads a passive and boring life at home with her parents, never marrying. She only becomes passionate when Milkman interferes with First Corinthians's love life with Porter, claiming that he is abusive to the women of the family.

  14. Pilate Dead

    Pilate Dead is Macon Dead II's sister, daughter of Macon and Sing Dead. Her mother dies in childbirth with her, and it seems to be ominous that the baby has no navel. The father picks a name from the Bible, Pilate, but is unwilling to change it when he learns what it means. He feels the child killed the mother. The only word he ever writes is Pilate's name on a piece of paper, and this she puts into her mother's snuffbox and carries as an earring. Pilate is always unusually independent and fearless, even as a child. She separates from her brother at the age of twelve when he wants to steal gold that does not belong to them. She does not mind wandering homeless by herself and heads for her mother's country in Virginia. Along the way she learns herbal medicine and it is implied, is a conjure woman, or a medicine woman of magic, with psychic power and a spiritual nature. She has visions and sees her father's ghost who gives her messages. She heals with her singing and knowledge of herbs and cooking. Never staying long in any place, she meets many people and eventually has a daughter, Reba. Believing her father wants her to return to the cave in Pennsylvania, she visits Circe and finds the bones in the cave that she carries in a green sack, believing they are the white man's bones that her brother Macon killed. Eventually she settles near her brother though they never speak. She sees that he should have a son and helps Ruth conceive and protect the boy. She educates Milkman in an alternative lifestyle to materialism, for she lives in a house without conveniences, living from her garden and the wine she makes. Her daughter Reba and granddaughter Hagar have an almost idyllic female society until disturbed by Milkman's treatment of Hagar. When Milkman tells her the bones are her father's she returns to Virginia with him to bury them. Pilate is the wise woman of the family, and Milkman learns to appreciate her, calling her “Sugar Girl” as she is dying, shot by Guitar. She says her only regret is that she did not love enough people while she was alive. There is a play on her name, Pilate, as “pilot,” the one who guides Milkman.

  15. Reba Dead

    Reba is Pilate's daughter, conceived on her travels and brought to the city to live near Macon in Pilate's house. Reba is not very bright and keeps trying to get men who abuse her. She herself has a daughter, and the three women live together without husbands, often heard singing in the house together. Reba had an abusive boyfriend once whom Pilate nearly killed when he hit Reba. Reba tries to please her daughter Hagar without success, even selling her diamond to buy her clothes. She is lucky and wins things even when she does not try.

  16. Ruth Foster Dead

    Ruth Foster Dead is Milkman's mother, the refined light-skinned daughter of Dr. Foster, to whom she is devoted. It is implied that Ruth is sexually unfulfilled and is too intimate with her father and her son—though this is only implied rather than spelled out. She gives the impression of being a thwarted and repressed woman. Her husband Macon married her for her position and despises her, refusing to sleep with her. He is verbally abusive to her and the children. He accuses her of being passively aggressive toward him, finding her own means of revenge. She believes in her social superiority because of her father's training and looks down on her husband and other people. A rather weak character, Ruth only is roused to protect her son, first against Macon, and then against Hagar when she tries to kill Milkman. Ruth is befriended by Pilate, and when Hagar dies, Ruth makes her husband pay for Hagar's funeral as a gesture of justice.

  17. Sing Byrd Dead

    Sing Byrd Dead is the mother of Pilate and Macon II. She is of Indian blood, the daughter of Heddy Byrd, and was raised with Jake (Macon Dead I), her husband, with whom she fled Virginia for Pennsylvania to start a farm. Jake's ghost tells his daughter Pilate, “Sing.” She thinks he means for her to sing, but he is calling out the name of his wife.

  18. Empire State

    Empire State is a man who seems mute or mentally impaired, working at the barbershop. He met his white wife in France during World War I and brought her home. He seems to have gone mad when she started sleeping around with all black men. He is one of the members of the Seven Days terrorist group, and Guitar hides him when police are investigating the death of a white boy, hinted to be in retaliation for the death of the black boy, Emmett Till.

  19. Dr. Foster

    Dr. Foster is the mulatto doctor who lives on Mains Street, renamed Doctor Street in his honor, and No Doctor Street after his death. His daughter Ruth marries Macon Dead II. Dr. Foster treats darker blacks as inferior and will not let his daughter associate with them, keeping up class pretensions. His fatal illness is terrible, making his skin white and bloated. His daughter worships him as the only one who ever cared for her and for the rest of her life escapes the house at night to sleep on his grave. Her husband Macon believes Foster and Ruth had some unnatural sexual relationship and rejects his wife, thinking she was naked next to his dead body, an accusation she refutes to her son. Foster represents those blacks who try to distance themselves from other blacks, trying to live a more privileged white life.

  20. Freddie

    Freddie is the neighborhood gossip and works for Macon Dead II. He sees Ruth breastfeeding her very large son through the window and gives the boy the nickname that sticks for life, “Milkman.” Freddie was born in jail and raised there after his mother died. He claimed she was killed by ghosts. He is rejected by the black community but apparently, sees everything that is going on.

  21. Michael-Mary Graham

    Michael-Mary Graham is the white woman First Corinthians works for as a maid. She is a portrait of a pretentious woman who believes herself a poet and has the money to foster her illusion, unaware that her black maid is better educated, traveled, and more intelligent.

  22. Henry Porter

    Henry Porter is the boyfriend of First Corinthians Dead. Porter is a member of the Seven Days group of assassins and has a breakdown early in the story in which he threatens suicide. He is one of Macon Dead's tenants who is thrown out when Dead discovers his involvement with his daughter.

  23. Ryna

    Ryna is the wife of Solomon, the flying African, with whom she had 21 children. Her grief at her husband's flight when he left them can still be heard as her screams in Ryna's Gulch.

  24. Robert Smith

    Robert Smith is the insurance salesman who jumps off the hospital roof in a pair of blue silk wings at the beginning of the story. We learn later that he was a member of the Seven Days terrorist group and killed himself from loneliness and despair. These vigilantes had to take a vow never to marry or have children, and they were isolated by their terrible profession.

  25. Solomon (Shalimar)

    Solomon is one of the flying Africans of legend and ancestor of the Dead family, one of the Virginia slaves with supernatural powers, who took off across the ocean towards Africa, leaving his wife Ryna and 21 children behind. Jake was the youngest whom he picked up and flew with for a little while until he had to drop him. Milkman is thrilled when he learns the family patriarch (his great-grandfather) had supernatural powers and believes he and Pilate have inherited them.


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